I didn’t expect to find myself in stark disagreement with The Godfather of Hip Hop and a music industry pioneer partly responsible for crop-dusting the fertile minds of the globe with the music and culture of hip hop.
Nevertheless, here we are. In a brief statement published in a short piece by MusicWeek, Russell Simmons was quoted as saying:
“[Artists aren’t] counting their royalties as their income, they’re counting all of the things that they influence - all the multibillion dollar business that their branding [is] building and affecting”
The generalization of that statement makes it particularly unsavory forkful to swallow.
I will agree that artists viewing themselves as brands represents an evolution towards the successful mindset of the future. I’m with you there, Uncle Rush. But, those royalties? They will always matter. And they will come to matter more, because as we see from the declining sales of both digital and physical music, there will continue to be less of them to have.
The percentage of the artist population that has reached a position where “they influence - all the multibillion dollar businesses that their branding [is] building and effecting” is miniscule. It’s a wee sliver of the total artist pie. And even to the artists who occupy that sliver, royalties still matter.
To an artist who used to sell 5 million records now selling 1 million; an artist who sold 1 million records now selling 500K; and the artist who used to expect a gold plaque now selling 100K, royalties are pretty damn important.
They matter to Taylor Swift, one of these artists who influence multibillion dollar businesses with her branding.
She’s very vocal and adamant about earning the sales and royalties she feels her music deserves, the prime reason she’s pulled her music from Spotify.
Or consider the wave of big ticket artists including Kenny Rogers, The Temptations, and James Taylor, suing their respective labels in recent years for higher royalties from digital music sales.
For the big dogs at the top, the royalties matter, but even more so for the pups on their way up.
The larger part of the artist pie is filled with a mass of aspiring indie artists, struggling artists, and artists who must tour tirelessly to compensate for diminishing sales, becoming Walking Dead zombies in the process.
Royalties, whether mechanical royalties from the sale of a record, or performance royalties from licensing music, can mean the difference between putting out another record or being put out of a home.
Royalties matter to the artists who work with Music Dealers, artists who strive diligently toward becoming industry-influencing, multi-billion dollar brands. With a focus on synch licensing, the work we do with the independent artist community generates substantial performance royalty income. Performance royalty checks stave off 9 to 5’s; they give independent artists the chance to get married and start families. Our artists go on tour with their earnings and put out new material, steps which help them climb the ladder towards becoming a Taylor Swift. Ever important, royalties from a variety of sources keep indie artists moving forward, on track, fulfilling their purpose of painting the silence with sound.
Royalties matter more.
I feel where you’re coming from, Uncle Rush. A brand is essential. But it takes a long time to climb the ladder to get to the point you’re describing, and on the way up, all of the pennies count. As we see, even after you become a heavyweight artist, every stream, every sale, and every spin is still a big deal.
As long as the value of music continues to “get low” like its twerking to a Lil Jon song, the masses expect music for free, and there’s less music being sold, royalties will not only continue to matter, they’ll grow more important by quarter.
By: Christopher Rucks, Music Dealers